Comparing Education Policy Positions in the 2012 Presidential Race

From my perspective, education hasn’t been a much talked about issue in the presidential campaign so far. That’s not to say that President Obama and Governor Romney don’t have sharply contrasting education policy positions. They do.

President Obama’s vision for education in his second term builds on the priorities of his first four years. Those priorities–higher standards, effective teachers, state data management systems, and school turnaround strategies–are embedded in the high profile grant competitions his campaign trumpets: the Race to the Top state, district, and early childhood grants. Even the state waivers granted from some of the No Child Left Behind Act’s more onerous provisions requires the administration’s commitments to higher standards, systemic teacher evaluation policies, and more sophisticated school accountability measures that include student growth models.

In contrast, Governor Romney’s education plans emphasize parental choice as the primary means for school improvement and accountability. Romney touts portability of Title I and special education funds, which would follow the child to any school of their choice. In essence, Romney seeks to “voucherize” Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act by allowing students to receive their per capita share of federal funds to spend at any public, private, or parochial school their family wishes. In addition to the Romney campaign’s reliance on parental empowerment to provide school accountability, a central feature of the governor’s education reform platform is a new requirement for states to produce report cards on school performance that parents can use to choose schools. Finally, Romney would seek to eliminate the No Child Left Behind Act’s highly qualified teacher provisions and to block grant all federal teacher-quality funding to states that agree to reform teacher tenure and evaluation systems.

In the first presidential debate, President Obama touted his Race to the Top program (and equated Common Core adoption with Race to the Top’s success) while Governor Romney argued the need for greater efficiency in the use of federal education dollars and for putting money in the hands of families to make their own school choice decisions. Beyond that, the candidates did not provide much more in terms of the vision for education in the next four years.

Tonight at 9 p.m. ET, I encourage you to tune into the second presidential debate. This debate will be conducted in a town hall format at Hofstra University in New York. The Public Policy Team at ASCD will be watching closely, and I encourage you to do so as well. Let us know what you think of the debate by leaving us comments below.

In addition, the first issue of ASCD’s new resource, Policy Points (PDF), reviews the Obama and Romney education platforms. Available to Educator Advocates, Policy Points provides you the important information, data, and insights on timely topics in an easy to use, easy to understand format. Join ASCD’s Educator Advocates for access to this this great new resource.

David Griffith leads the development and implementation of ASCD’s legislative agenda, as well as ASCD’s efforts to influence education decision making at the local, state, and federal levels. He has 20 years of political experience as both a congressional aide and on several political campaigns. Prior to joining ASCD in 2009, Griffith was the director of governmental and public affairs for the National Association of State Boards of Education, where he oversaw the organization’s advocacy and political activities as well as media relations.